A Brief History of the "House of the Rising Sun" (2022)

Today, we’re bringing you another entry in American Blues Scene’s exclusive “Brief History of a Song” series.

To most people, even mentioningHouse of the Rising Sun evokes memories of The Animals‘ 1964 smash hit, with it’s instantly recognizable circular chord pattern in A-minor. The song itself, however, enjoys a hidden and shockingly broad history that spans every folk-inspired corner of the United States, and dates far earlier than the mid-1960s, when it’s popularity exploded.

Like so many folk songs, the House of the Rising Sun‘s true “origins,” along with exactly where — or even whatthe Rising Sun was have been washed away by time. The often disputed birth of the song’s existence on record, as so many other countless folk songs, began with Alan Lomax, who recorded a young girl named Georgia Turner singing the song Acappellain theAppalachian hills ofrural Kentucky. Georgia was merely 16 when she recorded the song, but was largely mum on where she had learned it. Lomax included the song in the popular Library of Congress albumOur Singing Country in 1941.

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Notable folk singer Clarence Ashley actually did make an earlier recording of the same song in 1933, where his version is definitively in the bluegrass style. Clarence had said that he learned the song from his grandfather, meaning the song’s origins can be dated to considerably older than 1933. What is interesting is that, while both Ashley and Turner come from theAppalachia region, Clarence was from Tennesseeand Georgia was from Kentucky. The two were over 100 miles apart, a considerable distance in the 1930s, yet both sangeerilysimilar versions of the song. In an age where few could afford record players or radios, how did so many people learn the same music such asthe Rising Sun? And in an era before cars were common and highways were still 25 years away, how did songs like this one manage to spread across the country? Several have researched the topic of “floating songs”, which, much like the songs themselves, has murky and hard-to-trace origins.

Ted Anthony wrote a definitive book onRising SuncalledChasing the Rising Sun.In it, his journey in search of the true birth of the song take him to a dozen states and even across the Atlantic ocean. The book expertly discusses Rising Sun as a part of the greater story of the spread of folk music at large. Anthony presents several ways songs tended to move across the confining borders of small towns where many of the folk singers, both recorded or otherwise, lived their entire lives and died. Anthony asserts that Clarence Ashley actually traveled the Appalachia area in the 1920s with medicine shows. Medicine shows, popular in the early-to-mid 1900s, were traveling bands of musicians and salesmen. In a new town, the musicians would sing songs to entertain and draw crowds, and the salesmen would take advantage of the gathering to sell bottled “medicine”, (which could often better be described as flavored alcohol!) It was these early traveling shows that helped untold numbers of folk songs spread. Clarence, as well as unknown others, may have sang the famousHouseto numerous towns inAppalachia, where some townsfolk would remember and re-sing the song time and again, improvising if they forgot a word or phrase.

Early folk songs such as Rising Sunwere also spread through the railroads. These were times when the only practical means of travel across long distances, which sometimes even meant 100 miles or less, was by train. It was also a time when train lines were still largely being built across America, with many workers singing in unison as they laid rail lines into and from various towns. This can be evidenced in many of both Alan Lomax and his father, John’s folk recordings, where dozens of workers can be found singing in unison — and sometimes harmony — to the tune of their hammers hitting railroad spikes. Anthony describes a situation where he found a version of House of the Rising Sun, in Oklahoma. Though the “house” was not the called the Rising Sun but another, more localized infamous establishment, and the lyrics were changed slightly, the song was nonetheless obviously of the school of the “original”. It was likely the railroads, theorizes Anthony, that would enable some anonymous soul to carry the song from the mountains in the east all the way to the plains in the midwest.

As records became more popular, so did recordings of the House of the Rising Sun. Instead of chance hearing-and-remembering by hand fulls oftroubadours, records were common and fairly easy to come by. From the 1940s on, many artists recorded various versions of the song, occasionally under different titles, but generally the same lyrics and chord progressions. Leadbelly released several versions of the song in the 1940s. in 1958, Pete Seeger recorded a version on the banjo and, as was often common in earlier versions of the song, he sang it from the perspective of a woman. Woodie Guthrie recorded a version, as did both Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who had arguably the most famous version until the Animals’ cover several years later. The Animals recorded their world-famous version in one take during a May, 1964 recording session. It became an immediate hit, and topped both the U.S. and U.K. single charts that year. The song has been continuously been lauded for it’s sound and staying power, and remained The Animals most popular single.

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As for the location of theactualhouse of the Rising Sun,it likely never existed in reality — despite the often-repeated instructions from French Quarter tour operators and passively amused, often conflicting directions from many locals and well-meaning tourists alike. As Nola.com, a division of the Times-Picayune,reported in 2007, if a fabled Rising Sun everdidexist in New Orleans, currently the most likely location to claim the honor is located on535-537 Conti St. in the famous French Quarter, where evidence of a hotel named Rising Sun was found. Excavators discovered unusual amounts of makeup containers and liquor bottles, and a newspaper ad stating that the hotel was open to “discerning gentlemen”, which could have possibly alluded to prostitution. Rising Sun is thought to haveoperated from 1808-1822, when it burned. The site is now a gallery for theHistoric New Orleans Collectionmuseum. Realistically, though, according toarchaeologist Shannon Dawdy, who uncovered most of the artifacts, the hotel could just as easily have been a hotel for men, which was not uncommon. It was also not uncommon for men of that era to apply some makeup to themselves, thus the evidence is not sufficient enough to be definitive by any means.

There have been tales of a picture of a women’s prison outside of New Orleans with a stone etching of a rising sun over the gate, though no images have surfaced to date. The theory is plausible, since most versions before the 60s made the narrator a woman, and many renditions include the phrase “ball and chain”. A house on Esplanade Ave, just beside the French Quarter in the Treme neighborhood has, at times, been referenced as being “the” Rising Sun, as have several other places in the area. In all actuality, the term “Rising Sun” was and continues to be (no doubt fueled, in part, by the song’s staying power and popularity, bringing it full-circle,) a common phrase. Different, interchanged versions of the song from across the country have been known tosubstituteNew Orleans for another town, and the Rising Sun for a different establishment, aiding in muddying even the city and state, let alone exact street or building. Often times the establishment is a brothel, or a gambling parlor, bar, or prison.Many of the earlier singers likely never visited New Orleans, certainly 16 year old Georgia Turner did not,and the house of the Rising Sun could just as easily be aalliteration which means any generic place of ill repute.In truth, it will likely never be definitively known.

There has been evidence to suggest that the song, though it’s origins are commonly traced back as far as the early 1900sAppalachiaarea, has strong roots dozens or even hundreds of years earlier in England. As many people over the years churned and moved and settled, the places that components of the song could have come from are nearly endless. Much like hundreds of other folk songs, the epicenter ofHouse of the Rising Sun is lost to the past. It was a song that was passed from person to person and from one generation to the next. It’s earliest singers, the location of the house that so many had apparently spent their lives in sin and misery, and most everything else about the song is a mystery. Perhaps this mystery, along with the somewhat anonymous lyrics and spooky minor chords, is part of what has continued to intrigue so many thousands and millions over the years.

Chasing the Rising Sunby Ted Anthonyon Amazon

Our Singing Country: Folk Songs and Ballads
Alan Lomax, Dover Publications, 1941
THE RISING SUN BLUES
e. No. 1404. Georgia Turner, Middlesboro, Ky., 1937-Other stanzas, Bert Morton, Manchester, Ky., No. 1496.

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There is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun,
It’s been the ruin of many poor girl, and me, O God, for one.

If I had listened what mama said, I’d’a’ bee at home today,
being so young and foolish, poor boy, let a rambler lead me astray.

Go tell my baby sister never to do like I have done,
To shun that house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun.

My mother she’s a tailor, she sold those new blue jeans,
My sweetheart, he’s a drunkard, Lord, Lord, drinks down in New Orleans.

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The only thing a drunkard needs is a suitcase and a trunk.
The only time he’s satisfied is when he’s on a drunk

Fills his glasses to the brim, passes them around.
The only pleasure he gets out of life is hoboin’ from town to town.

One foot is on the platform and the other on on the train,
I’m going back to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain.

Going back to New Orleans, my race is almost run,
Going back to spend the rest of my life beneath that Rising Sun

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FAQs

What was the significance of the song House of the Rising Sun Group of answer choices? ›

1) The song is about a brothel in New Orleans. "The House Of The Rising Sun" was named after its occupant Madame Marianne LeSoleil Levant (which means "Rising Sun" in French) and was open for business from 1862 (occupation by Union troops) until 1874, when it was closed due to complaints by neighbors.

What was the original House of the Rising Sun? ›

“The House of the Rising Sun” possibly originated from “The Unfortunate Rake”, a 16th century English folk song about a young man dying of syphilis. The actual “house” from the song could have been a bawdy house or it could have been a pub or even a hotel where “discerning gentlemen” applied makeup to their faces.

Is there A real House of the Rising Sun? ›

What's more, there actually is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun. But it's not a brothel; it's a bed and breakfast run by Kevin and Wendy Herridge, Brit and Louisianan respectively, who love the legend and have collected more than 40 versions of the song. Their hostel features ample brothelabilia.

Who wrote House of the Rising Sun First? ›

Description. House of the Rising Sun is an American folk song, thought to be written by Georgia Turner and Bert Martin. This song tells of hard times in New Orleans. The most well known version was recorded by Eric Burdon and The Animals in 1964.

What is the significance of the rising sun? ›

The symbol was used before and during World War II by Imperial Japan's military, particularly the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was used as propaganda, championing the culture of war.

Why did animals split up? ›

The Animals star blames psychedelic drugs for breaking up '60s rock band - Starts at 60.

What happened to The Animals? ›

The Animals underwent numerous personnel changes in the mid-1960s, and suffered from poor business management, leading the original incarnation to split up in 1966.

What is the House of the Rising Sun about Reddit? ›

TIL "House of the Rising Sun" was originally written from the perspective of a woman. The "House" most likely referred to a brothel where she went to work off the gambling debts of her "sweetheart"

What has House of the Rising Sun been used in? ›

9 “The House Of The Rising Sun” In Suicide Squad

The Animals' “The House of the Rising Sun” plays over the movie's opening scene, setting the stage for a soundtrack that incorporates songs by such diverse artists as Rick Ross, War, Panic! at the Disco, Eminem, and Rick James.

How old is the House of the Rising Sun? ›

The song was recorded in just one take on May 18, 1964, and it starts with a now-famous electric guitar A minor chord arpeggio by Hilton Valentine. According to Valentine, he simply took Dylan's chord sequence and played it as an arpeggio.

How does the House of the Rising Sun relate to the Vietnam War? ›

House of the Rising Sun – The Animals

They transposed their own narrative onto the lyrics – it became about a man whose father was a drunken gambler. However, the song struck a chord with the troops in Vietnam and formed an indelible association with that conflict.

How many versions of the House of the Rising Sun are there? ›

Various – House Of The Rising Sun - 20 Versions

Part of the series "One-Song-Collection" as named on this release, other releases with the same concept on the same label had the series title "One-Song-Edition", so both titles descripe the same series.

Where are the animals from? ›

What year did House of the Rising Sun? ›

Who wrote Midnight Special? ›

Paul Evans recorded the highest-charting version of "Midnight Special," reaching number 16 in the winter of 1960.
...
Other versions.
"Midnight Special"
Song by Creedence Clearwater Revival
LabelFantasy
Songwriter(s)Traditional
Producer(s)John Fogerty
5 more rows

Which of the following Symbolise the rays of the rising sun answer? ›

Expert-verified answer

the symbol of rays of rising sun represent the beginning of new era.

Which of the following symbolize the rays of the rising sun? ›

A well-known variant of the flag of the sun disc design is the sun disc with 16 red rays in a Siemens star formation. The Rising Sun Flag (旭日 旗, Kyokujitsu-ki) has been used as a traditional national symbol of Japan since at least the Edo period (1603 CE).

Why was Japan called the land of the rising sun? ›

According to the words of the Japanese envoy himself, that name was chosen because the country was so close to where the sun rises. In any event, the name stuck, and for the last 1400 years or so, the world has referred to Japan as Nippon, the land of the rising sun.

What is the House of the Rising Sun about Reddit? ›

TIL "House of the Rising Sun" was originally written from the perspective of a woman. The "House" most likely referred to a brothel where she went to work off the gambling debts of her "sweetheart"

What does the Japanese rising sun mean? ›

This design has been widely used in Japan for a long time. Today, the design of the Rising Sun Flag is seen in numerous scenes in daily life of Japan, such as in fishermen's banners hoisted to signify large catch of fish, flags to celebrate childbirth, and in flags for seasonal festivities. Reference.

How does the House of the Rising Sun relate to the Vietnam War? ›

House of the Rising Sun – The Animals

They transposed their own narrative onto the lyrics – it became about a man whose father was a drunken gambler. However, the song struck a chord with the troops in Vietnam and formed an indelible association with that conflict.

What movie is House of the Rising Sun in? ›

9 “The House Of The Rising Sun” In Suicide Squad

The Animals' “The House of the Rising Sun” plays over the movie's opening scene, setting the stage for a soundtrack that incorporates songs by such diverse artists as Rick Ross, War, Panic! at the Disco, Eminem, and Rick James.

Which country is known as the land of rising sun '? ›

Japan: Land of the Rising Sun.

What does the sun with 16 rays mean? ›

In Korea, the rising sun symbol with 16 red rays is considered equivalent to the swastika (the Nazi symbol). It is because the symbol was used by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Under the flag, the Japanese army colonized the Korean Peninsula for 35 years.

What does the sun represent in Japan? ›

The sun plays an important role in Japanese mythology and religion as the Emperor is said to be the direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the legitimacy of the ruling house rested on this divine appointment and descent from the chief deity of the predominant Shinto religion.

What does Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth teach us about the Vietnam War is the song pro war or anti-war explain? ›

While it's often recognized as an anti-war protest anthem, "For What It's Worth" wasn't actually based on Vietnam. Stills, who wrote the song, was instead inspired by a confrontation back home that erupted on a few famous blocks in Los Angeles.

Who wrote we have to get out of this place? ›

We Gotta Get out of This Place

Did the Vietnam War come to a sudden or gradual end explain why you think so? ›

Did the war come to a gradual end? Why? No. It was just a gradual change because there was no more war.

Where was House of the Rising Sun filmed? ›

House of the Rising Sun is a 2011 American action drama film starring Dave Bautista. Filming took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The screenplay was written by Chuck Hustmyre and Brian A.

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